*already included in the Extended Edition
** not compatible with the Extended Edition/requires extensive tweaking
Mods are an integral part of any PC RPG, and Baldur’s Gate II is no exception, especially due to the diversity and quality of some of the available material. From ease-of-use, to bug fixing, to extra dialogue, quests and characters, they all significantly enhance the experience and reduce some of the tedium inevitably linked to such an old game. There’s a lot more choice in terms of mods for BGII as well, due to its being more popular than BG.
There are several websites where mods can be found, and the most voluminous ones are usually group efforts by the users which are affiliated to these sites. The most prominent ones would be the Pocket Plane Group (or PPG), The Gibberlings Three (or G3), Spellhold Studios (or SHS) and the Chosen of Mystra (or CoM). I’ll only list the mods I’ve tried out and/or still use, but feel free to browse these websites and see if anything else catches your fancy. They also feature forums where you can ask for advice or help, should you encounter bugs.
Before doing anything to your game, you need to apply the latest official patch from BioWare (if you have Throne of Bhaal, use the ToB patch, no need for both). Once that’s done, you have two choices. 1) You can install a megamod like the BiG World Project, which is a jumbo pack containing a plethora of mods (around 400). This is handy if you want a lot of mods and will (theoretically) make them play nice together, but the downside is that the installation procedure can be very lengthy and complex, and if something goes wrong, you may need to reinstall everything. Or, 2) you can be somewhat less ambitious and simply install the mods you want directly, which is what I did, since I don’t use that many of them. If you choose to do this, there is, nevertheless, an order of installation to follow. Usually, the more extensive mods, which affect either characters or storyline (or both) go first, and the ones that are purely technical come later. I’ll list the ones I use or have tried by order of installation.
One more thing worth mentioning: I have a policy concerning NPCs whereby I only use mods that expand on existing characters from the vanilla games (e.g. Viconia, Sarevok). So you won’t find original characters created from scratch in any of my lists, simply because I’ve never tested them.
WeiDU by Weimer: Short for “Weimer’s Dialogue Utility”, named after its creator. This isn’t actually a mod, but a compiler program which will take care of installing all your mods. It largely automates the process and generates a handy log which lets you keep track of everything you’ve installed and the order you’ve installed it in, which is very important, especially if you run into bugs or incompatibilities.
Ascension by David Gaider: This was actually created by one of the game’s writers, who was unhappy with ToB as it was released. His main gripe seems to have been the difficulty of the encounters; he deemed them too easy. So if you feel the same way, this is your chance to make the encounters with the Five, as well as the final battle a LOT more difficult. It also lets Imoen gradually acquire Bhaalspawn abilities, much like the protagonist, and gives her more dialogue with Sarevok, if you chose to revive him using a part of her soul. You also gain improvements to the protagonist’s Slayer form and an upgraded Sword of Chaos if you give it to Sarevok. You can also manage to recruit Balthazar as an ally for the final battle. And finally, some of the epilogues are more detailed. While this is appealing, as is the Balthazar option and the extra content concerning Sarevok, the enhanced difficulty is too extreme for me, especially for the final battle. Maybe I’m not the best BG player ever, but too much combat punishment just turns me off. What’s more, while you can choose whether to make the battles with the Five harder or not, you have no choice as far as the final battle is concerned, which is a big drawback.
Warning: this mod isn’t compatible with the Extended Edition yet, unless you install the version included in The BiG World Project.
Unfinished Business by PPG: This is a mod that restores some sidequests that were cut from the game, but also fixes a significant amount of dialogue, encounters, items, soundsets and creature files. So not only do you get additional content that was originally planned by the developers themselves, but also improvements to the game’s consistency. On the list of additions is a sidequest for Minsc with Boo being kidnapped, more content for the Circus Tent quest, the murder investigation sidequest involving Haer’Dalis, hints of a prior relationship between Valygar and an NPC called Suna Seni, etc.
Kivan and Deheriana Companions by Domi (G3): Kivan is my favourite BG character, so this one is like catnip to me. Not only does it allow you to recruit Kivan, but also–eventually–to romance him with a female Bhaalspawn, should you so desire, even though you have to wait until ToB for her efforts to really pay off. Considering Kivan’s circumstances, you may wonder how that’s possible, but let me assure you, the mod makes perfect sense of it all and is beautifully written. In fact, this is one of the best written mods I’ve experienced to date. Kivan blends into both the party and the storyline almost seamlessly, interacting with the vanilla characters and commenting on storyline events. What’s more, his romance content is wonderful, if profoundly bittersweet. Kivan isn’t the most cheerful guy to begin with, but his bereavement reinforces that, and the romance clearly plays the ‘healing a damaged soul’ card. So you need to have a caring and patient Bhaalspawn in mind, who doesn’t mind that Kivan essentially lost his soulmate and will take a long time to even consider looking at someone else. I’ll grant you that it’s not easy to have your protagonist be the ‘second woman’, but then the situation is similar to, say, Jaheira’s romance (and several other BioWare romances since then).
If that’s not your cup of tea, but you still like Kivan, it’s entirely possible to have him join your party as a friend and even, given the right circumstances, to resurrect Deheriana, although the morality of such an action is intentionally written as questionable. If you choose to do this, you need to have either Aerie or Cernd in your party in Suldanessellar at the end of Shadows of Amn, then pick the correct dialogue options. Both she and Kivan will then join the party and remain throughout ToB. If you choose not to do this, then Kivan will inevitably leave at the end of SoA, afraid that he will miss his chance to rejoin her. Harsh, perhaps, but fair, all things considered.
Xan for BG2 by Kulyok (PPG): Wow. Kivan may always be first in my heart, but it’s a testament to the skill of the writer that this mod and its predecessor-component from BG1 NPCs have managed to make me thoroughly enjoy a character I generally feel neutral about. This is an exceptionally well-written and extremely thorough mod that adds Xan as a companion and potential romance for a female elven Bhaalspawn (other races may make him consider the idea towards the end of ToB). If your Bhaalspawn romanced Xan in BG1 NPCs, she can pick up right where she left off. If not, she can still romance him from scratch. And if none of that appeals or applies, s/he can still bring him along as a friend.
Much like Kivan, Xan is not the most cheerful fellow (a euphemism if there ever was one), nor the easiest to like, but this mod really brings him to life as more than just an annoyance or comic relief. What’s more, there are several sidequests for him to partake in, and his Moonblade can be upgraded. He blends into the party as if he were already in the vanilla game and even has voice acting, although I don’t necessarily think that the actor did a good job…If you don’t think so either, you can restore his BG soundset. The problem, up until recently, was that the only possible ending for a ‘bonded’ romance with Xan (necessary for a successful romance in BG1 NPCs) was an unhappy one, thus breaking the hearts of many a player. Your Bhaalspawn could then choose to have a rebound ‘thing’ with Valygar in ToB…something that I thought to be rather ill-advised, considering how painstakingly the relationship with Xan had been built up until that point. Fortunately, the author has since relented and made a happy ending possible in a recent update. And now, this mod is unreservedly awesome.
Coran NPC for BG2 by Kulyok (PPG): This is by the same author as the Xan mod, who took over writing for Coran from Domi, who was the author of his component in BG1 NPCs. Alas, if your Bhaalspawn chose to romance him there, it doesn’t carry over, as this author chooses to consider Coran as a hopeless womaniser (a consequence of a tragic first love), and the original game had him shacked up with Safana anyway. You can refer to a past relationship between him and your Bhaalspawn, but you won’t be able to rekindle it. I think it’s a bit of a shame, but Coran is a fun character to have along, regardless. The author’s skill and professionalism means that he’s also seamlessly integrated into the team, but he has less content than Xan and no personal quest. Still, it’s a great mod to have if you like him or if you dislike the other Thieves on offer in the vanilla game.
Alora NPC by Raven (CoM): Much like with Coran, if you really liked Alora from BG and don’t like any of the Thieves on offer in BGII, this mod is for you. However, I think I’ve been spoiled by other mod authors, such as Domi or Kulyok, as I can’t help but feel the difference in quality between their stuff and this mod, in terms of both dialogue (quantity and quality) and content. It feels a bit…hollow, for lack of a better word, and I never really had the impression that Alora belonged on the team. But maybe that’s just me. It should also be noted that this mod is only for SoA: Alora will not appear in ToB.
Solaufein Romance Mod by Weimer: Solaufein is a drow male NPC whom the party meets during their sojourn in the Underdark and who turns out to not be Evil. A bit like Drizzt in the Forgotten Realms novels, if you’re familiar with those. Solaufein was an immediate hit with me when I first played the game, and I really wished there would be an option to recruit/romance him. With this mod, you can!
…Except that the writing is terrible. The author’s vision of Solaufein just doesn’t fit with how he’s portrayed in the vanilla game, which is one of the worst flaws a mod can have. In the description of the mod, the author compares him to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. While that could be true of the vanilla Solaufein (although he’s probably a nicer guy than Heathcliff), it’s completely unlike the Solaufein in the mod, who wouldn’t know torment if it hit him in the face. What’s more, for some reason, he’s made to quote (and quote…and quote AGAIN) real-world philosophers and poets, like, say, Carlyle. Even though Carlyle doesn’t exist in the Forgotten Realms universe. This is incredibly jarring and feels forced, pedantic and unnecessary. I also regret to say that the author doesn’t know how to write a compelling romance. His Solaufein feels too stilted, too bland, too polite and FAR too much at peace with himself, considering his background. If that weren’t enough, the mod makes Solaufein ridiculously overpowered, mainly because his character arc features some VERY difficult encounters, which can be really frustrating for people who don’t have a perfect handle on the combat system.
Bottom line: a lot of promise, no payoff. Major disappointment. Stay away from this.
Warning: this mod requires extensive tweaking to work with the Extended Edition.
Edwin Romance by Laufey (SHS): This mod is a lot of fun and made me guffaw several times, because, let’s face it, Edwin is a prime candidate for comic relief. The problem is that…this just isn’t him. The mod is based on a fanfic, and the author clearly had a very definite idea both of the protagonist she envisioned as romancing Edwin and of Edwin himself. However, much like the Solaufein Romance Mod, it doesn’t correspond to who Edwin is in-game. The “Evil” in Edwin’s “Lawful Evil” alignment isn’t just there by mistake. This is the guy who was willing to murder Dynaheir in cold blood in BG. No matter how inadvertently funny he can be, he is, ultimately, a scheming, conniving, power-hungry manipulator and narcissist. I don’t deny that it could be possible to write a romance for such a character. Or even that a Good protagonist could be involved in such a romance and eventually change his alignment (which can happen in this mod). But this author either couldn’t or didn’t want to tackle such a difficult configuration, and her version of Edwin is more akin to ‘lovably rakish’ than actually Evil. In other words, it doesn’t really work. Which is all the more disappointing, considering how much fun the dialogue is. For example, the “Edwin drunk on potions” scene is priceless. What’s more, this mod seems to be quite popular, so maybe you can look past its flaws. I, however, cannot.
IEP: Viconia Friendship by K’aeloree (SHS): This mod is part of the Interaction Expansion Project (IEP) created by Spellhold Studios, which aims to develop character interactions and party banters. I like Viconia, and it always bothered me that the only way to get her to open up about her past was to romance her. Would it really be so unrealistic for her to form a solid friendship with a (female) Bhaalspawn, and draw strength and reassurance from that, rather than from the rather stale ‘I need a man to fix me’ trope? Especially considering that drow society values females more than males. This mod does a good job of that, but, unfortunately, has been known to bug out at various junctures, meaning that I ultimately had to uninstall it. I’m not sure whether the current version has addressed these problems, but it would certainly be a shame if it hadn’t.
IEP: Yoshimo Friendship by K’aeloree (SHS): K’aeloree has done a bunch of these “Friendship” mods, and I have to admit that it’s a great way to beef up the content for characters you may like. I’m not especially fond of Yoshimo, but I do find it makes his story more poignant if he ends up forming a friendship with the Bhaalspawn before the game’s plot happens to him. And this mod fits that bill.
IEP Extended Banters by SHS: A collection of additional banters for your party members. More party interaction is always good in my book, as it makes the characters more relatable. This particular mod places an emphasis on adding dialogue for characters that were ‘underrepresented’ in the vanilla game, such as Nalia, Cernd or Korgan, so if you happen to like them, this one’s for you.
Sarevok Friendship by Aeryn (SHS): I don’t have any excessive fondness for Sarevok either, but I find that his alignment change in ToB requires a more developed relationship with the protagonist, what with the fact that they’re essentially half-siblings. So extra dialogues to beef up their understanding of each other hit just the right spot. Keep in mind that the same author has also written a Sarevok Romance, but that’s way past my comfort zone.
Jan’s Extended Quest by Xicloing (La Couronne de Cuivre): I’m rather conflicted about this one. On the one hand, Jan is one of my favourite characters, and I really felt that his personal quest deserved some proper closure (he does get it in his ToB epilogue, but it’s a bit abrupt and too far down the line). So on that front, this mod delivers, adding a sizeable chunk to his dealings with Vaelag and Lissa. On the other hand…the quality could be better. First of all, there is far too much teleportation involved, as many scenes take place in buildings that don’t exist in the game, so the authors had to build extra spaces and teleport the characters there, which is rather jarring. The other problem is that the mod was originally written in French for a French modding community, so the translation isn’t quite up to scratch in places. The result is that Jan doesn’t really sound like himself, but whether that’s an effect of the translation or whether the French text doesn’t get his voice right either, I can’t say, since I haven’t tried the French version. Bottom line: I can’t outright recommend this one.
Warning: this mod isn’t compatible with the Extended Edition yet.
Banter Packs by PPG: Another banter mod, for those who like their party members to chat with each other. This one adds over 50 new dialogues, the possibility for Jan to create more items, as well as more variety to Sarevok’s epilogues.
Crossmod Banter Pack by G3: Yet another banter mod, but this one is specifically aimed at improving the integration of various character mods, making the characters talk to each other as well as the vanilla party members. This is a huge undertaking, considering the number of character mods around, but it’s also a very commendable effort that gets my vote of confidence.
One Pixel Productions by Erephine: This mod introduces a lot of graphical tweaks. Its most significant component is replacing BGII paperdolls with BG ones, since they mostly look neater, although it does retain paperdolls for female gnomes and dwarves, which didn’t exist in vanilla BG. It also modifies inventory icons, item graphics and spell animations, which, for some reason, all looked sloppier in BGII. The end results are crisp, cleaner graphics, which, while it doesn’t amount to much considering the size of the items affected, is still more pleasing to the eye. There’s also a different menu font, which may make things easier to read. This is entirely up to personal taste, though, so if you were happy with BGII graphics and have no desire to revert to BG ones, then give this a miss.
If you have the Extended Edition, you won’t need this mod.
BG2 Tweaks by G3: A godsend of a mod, which includes a whole plethora of fixes, additions, cosmetic changes and tweaks to abolish or work around some of the more annoying aspects of the game. You’re free to choose which you do and don’t want, but these include, in no particular order:
- Identifying all items, thus saving you the annoyance of having to do it yourself.
- Removing the experience cap.
- Being able to wear multiple protection items at the same time (e.g. Ring of Protection).
- Weapon Grandmastery for multiclasses. I have no idea why they were barred from this in the vanilla game.
- Preventing character conflicts and/or characters spontaneously leaving the party because of reputation. This is known as the ‘Happy Patch’, and allows a Good party to experience some of the better Evil companions, such as Viconia or Edwin, and vice-versa.
And many more. A highly recommended install.
Sword Coast Stratagems by DavidW (G3): A very comprehensive mod designed to improve the game’s A.I., companion and inventory management. The short version? This is aimed at making the game more difficult. However, you can pick and choose what to install, and some of the options do actually make sense, from a purely logical standpoint, without automatically resulting in a difficulty spike.
Level 1 NPCs by Nythrun (G3): Another must-have. This mod does several things. First of all, it sets all newly-recruited characters’ level to 1 and leaves their accumulated EXP and skill points unassigned for you to distribute as you see fit. This nullifies the previously existing issue of the game’s A.I. bungling up characters that were available in the later stages of the game. Additionally, you can make it so that their accumulated EXP matches your party’s EXP levels more closely, either when they first join, or whenever they find themselves out of the party and back again. This removes the level gaps that also plagued late-comer companions and thus makes them genuinely viable to recruit. Last but not least, this mod also allows you direct control over each companion’s stats, class (including kits from BGII), skills and proficiencies. Want to give Aerie a class that she’s actually allowed to have? You can do it. Think Haer’Dalis would be more useful as a Skald than a Blade? You can do that too. Want Mazzy to be able to wield longswords? No problem. Want Cernd to not suck? Wait…that’s not possible. But you can turn him into something other than a Shapeshifter! All in all, a fantastic mod.
Generalized Biffing by thebigg (SHS): This is a purely technical mod that aims to improve your game’s performance by converting game files to a different format (.bif, hence the name). This will be most useful for people with megamods, but it can also be used on non-megamod installations, if you feel that you’re starting to accumulate a lot of mods.
Widescreen Mod by thebigg (G3): This mod allows you to run the game at any resolution you wish, whether fullscreen or windowed. Simple, but effective and highly recommended. What’s more, you can use it for other games, such as Planescape: Torment or Icewind Dale.
If you have the Extended Edition, you won’t need this mod.